From Moalboal, we caught a 5 hour local bus to Cebu City (largest city in the country after Manila), took an Uber from the bus station to the airport, then caught a flight off of Cebu Island. We flew direct to El Nido which is on the island of Palawan.
EL NIDO & BAY OF BISCUIT – PALAWAN ISLAND
The tiny, one runway El Nido airport wins cutest airport ever. It doesn’t even have a real building, just open area under a thatched roof with complimentary refreshments and cakes. It may be the first time I’ve seen Trav turn down a free sweet. We stayed at a guesthouse right in the town of El Nido which isn’t anything great, but it’s the surrounding islands and beaches that draw visitors to this area. Up until a year or so ago, El Nido only had electricity at night and just got its first ATM recently (even though most businesses don’t take credit cards). We had a few power outages but we were just happy electricity was now offered around-the-clock to have AC when needed. And the ATM was only full of money about half of the time. You win some, you lose some. Before leaving for our multi-day boat trip, we spent a few days beach hopping to nearby Nacpan Beach and Las Cabanas Beach. Both were amazing and some of the best beaches we’ve experienced on the entire trip. We would get sunchairs and spend the day sipping San Miguels (lémon flavor for Trav) and soaking up rays. Rough. Life.
After maxing and relaxing, we packed up and got ready for our boating adventure with Nativ’Exploration Palawan. It was a 3 day, 2 night trip around islands in the Bay of Bacuit. You sleep in small huts on the beach and spend the days snorkeling, kayaking and beach hopping. There were 12 in the group and everyone was from either Belgium or France, so we were the only native English speakers. Half spoke enough English to chat with us and they were sweet and made an effort, but we were lost most of the time as they would obviously all speak French when chatting as a group.
The beaches in this area are stunning and it was such a cool experience to pull up to a deserted island/beach and just hang out. Except some of the islands we couldn’t pull into because Survivor was filming. Which cracks me up because on the show it always makes it seem as if they’re in the complete middle of nowhere. In this instance, they were a quick boat ride away from the mainland and I still got LTE coverage. Oh reality shows. We also managed to find a floating bamboo bar in the middle of nowhere, so of course we had to pull up and overpay for a coconut cocktail.
Some lagoons and beaches in the area are popular stops for day boats from El Nido, but luckily we could avoid the crowds by going to these first thing in the a.m. or before sunset. This was a huge bonus. We also learned to fish the Filipino way using a tin can with fishing line tied around it and a small hook and bait at the end. We didn’t catch anything though. Trav was pretty bummed, but my can was especially rusty so I was just happy to avoid tetanus. The five-person crew on the boat was wonderful and a lot of fun, but then again Filipinos in general are pretty awesome. It’s definitely one of the best countries we’ve visited in terms of friendliness of locals. The food on the boat trip was impressive too. Unfortunately, the food in general in the Philippines isn’t great, so we didn’t expect much considering the tiny boat kitchen the cook had to work with. But the meals were delicious! Everything was really fresh with plenty of vegetables so I was happy.
Boracay turned out to be the least favorite of our Philippines stops. Don’t get me wrong we still enjoyed ourselves (it’s hard not to on a tropical island!) but it is VERY overcrowded and touristy. Due to the nearby international airport with lots of direct flights, it has become a big destination for vacationers from mostly China, Taiwan and South Korea. The benefit though is lots of accommodation options, whereas at our previous spots it was hit and miss and we stayed in some less than ideal joints. Here we had a nice room with a separate loft and the sweetest front desk staff that we got to know. It was close to White Beach, the long stretch of white powder sand spanning one side of the island that has appeared on numerous ‘best beaches in the world’ lists. Except there was a layer of green algae floating near shore that took away the ambiance. Well that and the endless selfie sticks. I did a quick search to see what was up and saw explanations around it being algae “season”…or the over-touristing of the island leading to seedy sewage practices. Either way I stopped looking to avoid knowing the definitive answer. We spent our time mostly at the far end where it was quieter or at Puka Shell Beach on the north side of the island.
Also, we were on Boracay for our wedding anniversary. We never know the current date, so it is impressive we even remembered! We went to a Mexican restaurant on the beach because what better way to celebrate four years than shoveling your face with nachos while watching the sunset? Exactly, nothing. After Boracay, we said goodbye to tropical temps for the trip and hopped a red-eye flight to chilly Seoul!